The East was covered in the last installment and today we head to the wild wild west. The current standings break into 5 sections (Top Tier, Battle Los Angeles, Memphis, the race to sixth, and the chase to qualify).
San Antonio Spurs 45-16
Oklahoma City Thunder 45-17
The Spurs and the Thunder have emerged as this year’s upper echelon in the West. However that does not mean both teams are unbeatable. The Spurs have gotten there through incredible coaching by Gregg Popovich. His veterans (Tim Duncan and Ginobili) have been watched to preserve their legs for the playoffs. The role players like Danny Green, Matt Bonner, James Anderson, and Tiago Splitter have stepped up. They have gotten some savvy pickups in Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson. However, Tony Parker has been amazing and has not gotten much credit for it. Unfortunately he will probably be beaten out by Chris Paul for First Team All NBA which is a bummer although I love CP3. As for the Thunder, they have relied on their Big 3 (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden) for offense and Serge Ibaka and his defensive prowess. All four players have stepped up their games this year and gotten better. They have also gotten veteran leadership and savvy off the bench from Derek Fisher (claimed off waivers).
Battle Los Angeles
The battle in LA started this offseason with the commissioner vetoing a trade of Chris Paul to the Lakers and then a week later allowing a trade for Paul to the Clippers. The two have been back and forth all year as the Clippers are the new and hip young team trying to knock off the old guard that is the Lakers. The winner wins the Pacific and avoids playing Memphis which is not a great matchup for either in the first round.
Memphis Grizzlies 37-25
Despite last year’s star of the playoffs, Zach Randolph, going down, the Grizzlies have hung together and now have a squad that is scary good with Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, Marresse Speights and Tony Allen with Randolph, Gilbert Arenas, and OJ Mayo coming off the bench. They are a trendy darkhorse sleeper pick to win the West and compete and win finals due to their height with Gasol and Randolph and the solid wing play with Gay, Allen and Mayo.
Race to 6th
Dallas Mavericks 35-28
Denver Nuggets 34-28
The defending champion Mavericks have struggled this year with consistency as they have had to replace Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea, Caron Butler and Peja Stojakovic from last year’s team. The team thought they caught a bargain with Lamar Odom but he produced next to nothing. Well except bad television. Actually nothing would be a compliment. Yet Dirk and the Mavs are solidly in position for the playoffs. As for the Nuggets, they are like the Pacers and Sixers in that they have to win with a team contribution and not rely on a star. They have also had to overcome injuries but they are right there. With that said about both teams, they need to finish strong so that they don’t miss the playoffs altogether as they are only 2 1/2 and 2 back of 10th place.
Chase to Qualify
Utah Jazz 33-30
Phoenix Suns 32-30
Houston Rockets 32-30
The infamous, IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY line, would have the Jazz at the 8 seed and the Suns and Rockets looking in from the outside. Clearly there is plenty of wiggle room between these three teams and they could even maneuver to 6th or 7th if they catch the right breaks. The Jazz are truly a mix of veterans (Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Devin Harris) and youth (Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter) and coach Ty Corbin has done a masterful job weaving the two together. The Suns are Steve Nash and unfortunately not much else yet he has willed the team to be competitive and competing for a West playoff spot. The Rockets were looking good before a 5 game slide has put them in the 10 spot which is clearly not the place to be.
The sprint of the last week should be interesting as teams jockey for position in both conferences. Next up will be the awards race specifically Coach of the Year and MVP.